“Reality Is Nine-Tenths Perception.” I’ve used that quotation on my biography because I want to remind myself that it isn’t necessarily reality that is important, but peoples’ perceptions of what is real that’s most important when communicating.
The Visual Cognition Lab at the University of Illinois hosts a video that illustrates the point.
I’d embed the video on this post if I could, but the University of Illinois is apparently quite protective of their video. Anyway, visit this link and wait for the video to download. You’ll need to watch the video through two times. The video consists of two teams, one dressed in black shirts and one dressed in white shirts, who pass a basketball to one another. You need to watch the white team and count how many times the ball is passed amongst them. After you’ve done that come back to this page.
You should have counted sixteen passes. Now, go back to the page and watch the entire video normally, without concentrating on the white team and without counting the number of passes.
Notice anything new in the video? It is amazing that when you’re asked to concentrate intensely on one team you entirely miss a gorilla walking through the clip, doing a shimmy, and walking on. The only thing you perceive are the white shirt players and, as a result, the gorilla does not even exist!
Our ability to perceive the world around us is remarkably faulty. As professional communicators, it is imperative that we not only know what we ourselves are trying to say, but how what we’re saying is being perceived–or not–by our intended audiences.